EVERY ACTOR NEEDS AN AUDIENCE, EVERY ACTION IS A PERFORMANCE
I was talking with Lynn Adair, who did the copyediting on I Was Someone Dead, about what we were calling "glacial movies." These are films that move at a rather slow pace, letting the moments play themselves out and not necessarily explaining them, letting the viewer drift into the mood and feel along with the characters. Some of the movies we placed in this category are Lost In Translation, Krzysztof Kieslowski's Blue, Hiroshima Mon Amour, and the work of Wong Kar-Wai and Michelangelo Antonioni. A lot of my thoughts on the topic were prompted by my weekend viewing of the latter's L'eclisse, recently released as a Criterion DVD.
I've often said of Wong Kar-Wai that he makes films like a novelist in the way he rewrites as he goes, shooting footage that takes him down unplanned avenues and that often gets scrapped, something most directors can't do once the camera is rolling. I've posited, possibly even in this journal, that I can't figure out how to write novels like Wong Kar-Wai makes movies.
Pushing this idea further, I wonder if there is a way to capture those empty, still moments from these kinds of films as prose. (Both Lynn and I referred to the films as poetic, and maybe poems can capture similar feelings, but I set that question aside.) For instance, when Antonioni crafts a moment between Monica Vitti and Alain Delon where the two don't speak, where he stands stock still in the street as she moves slowly around a wooden fence and looks at a half-built (or is it half torn down?) building, he gives no explanation as to his intent. You can infer his motives by how he frames a shot, by the objects around the characters, even how long he lets it linger, but that engages the audience in an entirely different way. It compels each viewer to ascribe his or her own meaning to the moment.
But in prose, you don't have the benefit of blankness. I can't write, "The two don't speak, and he stands stock still in the street as she moves slowly around a wooden fence and looks at a half-built (or is it half torn down?) building," and then leave the rest of the page bare, picking up with a new sentence on the next page. And even in that simple of a statement, each word choice comes bundled with its own meaning. Saying they don't speak suggests it's intentional, there is a forced reason. Why "stock still"? Does it relate to "wooden"? If I choose to make it either half-built or torn down, the image of the building changes, and even to pose the question such as I do in the version of the sentence as it exists seems to have a particular thrust. Each word I would add to the statement would only fill in the gaps for the reader more and more, and any description of the mood of the characters would topple the whole experiment. It all also runs the risk of being too formalized, and then I create a truly excruciating reading experience a la Robbe-Grillet.
So, what to do?
Current Soundtrack: Pet Shop Boys, "Flamboyant (Scissor Sisters Remix);" Scissor Sisters, "Take Me Out (Franz Ferdinand cover);" Garbage, "Bleed Like Me;" Kaiser Chiefs, "Caroline, Yes;" Moby, "Temptation (New Order cover)"
[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2004 Jamie S. Rich